Going All-In on WordPress

Indecision is a big problem for me. And based on the emails I get occasionally from freelancers struggling to find their direction, it sounds like I’m not alone.

The emails follow this format:

I’ve been doing $something for 6 months, and now I’m considering $something_else or $another_thing but I can’t decide which will get me to $my_desired_outcome quickly.

Maybe you can’t decide what technology you want to use. Or what blogs you should be reading. Or whether you should go freelance full-time or just keep doing side work. Or whether you should raise your rates.

Oh, how I feel your pain. I hesitate on everything.

You’re Not Alone

If you’re a second-guesser, don’t be ashamed. I’m currently enrolled in Brennan Dunn’s Double Your Freelancing Clients (DYFC) course, and the overarching theme of DYFC discussions so far has been “I can’t decide what I want to do, exactly”.

These are high-value consultants doing excellent work, and they’re struggling with the same hesitation as me and you: Picking a direction. Strangely, their struggle gave me confidence.

I haveĀ been hesitating to specialize for a year. Smart folks like Curtis McHale kept telling me to focus on a niche, but I couldn’t. I was paralyzed and kept floating along in general web development.

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’ll know that I’ve been openly debating where I want to take my business. Ruby on Rails work pays better, but for some unknown reason my heart is in WordPress. To this point, I’ve largely taken “whatever comes” for work.

And Then, Opportunity Called

An unplanned event. A twist. It changed everything.

I am a part-time writer on CSS-Tricks. One sad day, CSS-Tricks was going offline every hour or so, due to an unknown performance issue. I volunteered to look into it.

Programming is an interesting profession, but let’s be honest: Reading code is not typically where one goes to get adrenaline rushes.

But there are exceptions to everything. And oh, what an exception it was. Breaking open New Relic and the CSS-Tricks codebase to find the crash-inducing problem was an absolute thrill.

I haven’t felt this geeky in years, and it was lovely.

Why is this forum page eating up so many resources?

Wait, that’s not it…I need to look earlier in the spike.

After a post edit, the cache is cleared…

Then the sitemaps…THE SITEMAPS! THEY’RE REBUILDING ALL SLOW-LIKE! THAT’S IT!

I identified the sitemaps as the problem. We temporarily disabled them and the site stayed up. Eventually, Chris Coyier installed a different sitemaps plugin, and the issue was solved. Chris even gave me a “mega gold star”, which was the highlight of my work week!

Picking My Niche

CSS-Tricks was the third time I had worked specifically on WordPress performance problems. Of course, on any WordPress project I make small performance optimizations as part of the normal development process.

I had finally found something that

  • I loved to do
  • I was pretty good at
  • Has a direct impact on my client’s bottom line

Now here’s the important step: I decided I’m going all-in. I rewrote my business website to focus on WordPress performance. I’m spending my time learning and thinking about making WordPress fast. I’m going to dive in and see how it goes. No more hesitation.

In 6 months, maybe it will go nowhere. I’m not worried. I can pivot.

For now I have a direction, and I’m utterly thrilled about it.

Picking a Niche Doesn’t Limit You

I’m focusing on making WordPress performance. What happens when someone needs a theme built? Or what if someone wants Rails work? Must I decline?!

Nope. I can still do it.

Sounds simple, right? It is…except that this was the very reason I held back from specializing for the last year: The fear of loss of work.

The silly thing for me was that my website wasn’t generating me any leads anyways. Most of my work is from referral, so why was I so uptight about specializing on my website? What did I have to lose?

Now when someone asks “Can you build me a plugin?”, I can look at my schedule and see if I have enough performance-focused work to keep me busy. If not, I can take on the project.

Duh, right? Yes, but it has been a major breakthrough for me. If you’re like me (trying to figure out the direction to take your freelance business), I hope it sparks some inspiration for you.

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9 comments

  1. curtismchale says:

    Glad to see you specializing Andy. One thing though, I’m not sure that 6 months is enough, that’s simply how long most people last.

    It’s those that keep at it over 12 months or 24 months that really start to see the benefits of keeping specialized.

    • Andy Adams says:

      Great point. I was guesstimating that in 6 months if I haven’t gained any traction (a handful of niche-specific projects) I might reconsider. Would that still be too early to know?

    • Andy Adams says:

      Thanks Diane :). Really, that’s my plan: Make it work. I’m feeling very comfortable with it, even with the mentions of pivoting – it’s a safety net for the inner coward crying out.

  2. Tom McFarlin says:

    I’m a big fan of specialization and I have my reasons for that (though I’d personally not tell someone they have to do it — it’s a personal preference).

    Reading your thoughts on bouncing back and forth between WordPress and Rails and WordPress has been fun partially because that’s exactly what happened to me when I went self-employed.

    Then when I decided to specialize, I got this fear in the pit of my stomach that I’d lose out on work. But it never happened. Instead, I ended up with *more* more.

    Knowing what I do of you through your writing and the quality of your work, I think you’re going to be fine :). I can’t wait to read more about the journey.

  3. Glad it wasn’t bbPress directly affecting CSS Tricks.

    Now is a great time so specialize, but that may not be true for very long. Younger, maybe more adaptable full-stack engineers whom are accustomed to juggling more unknowns are on their ways, which IMO makes it even more important for anyone current to plant their feet deep and root themselves into their passions (while continuing to survey their surroundings.)

    • Andy Adams says:

      There are a couple of bbPress-related slowdowns I want to investigate in the coming weeks, but it be the theme code – I’m not sure yet! Will let you know.

      I might be missing your point, but personally I don’t think the benefits of specialization are going away any time soon. Thinking of the construction industry: I need a patio built in my back yard. There are general contractors who can probably do backyard patios – but I’ll definitely be calling a specialist because I *know* they can do it. I feel the same concept will apply in web dev – generalist works well for certain tasks, but when you have a specific problem, you’ll go straight to the specialist.

  4. One can’t argue that PHP is the majority of all website backends out there and that wordpress is the CMS taking over the web, I’m wondering when it will taper off. Granted a lot of that I think has to do with affiliates making loads of spam sites out there.

    I’m in 3 Udacity Nano Degree programs and I find it interesting that in the full stack program it’s all around python and virtual environment creation. Granted I think they are setting people up for regular jobs at companies rather than freelance . I’m one who would rather have great breadth but depth in a few language, frameworks, and CMS out there.

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